EDMONTON — The Alberta government says a special out-of-province prosecutor will assist in a criminal fraud investigation into the United Conservative Party leadership race won by Jason Kenney before he became premier.
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Eric Tolppanen, head of the Alberta Crown Prosecution Service, says an agreement is in place to get help from an Ontario prosecutor. The prosecutor’s name has not been released.
The Crown first announced in May that it was seeking an out-of-province lawyer and Tolppanen, in a statement Wednesday, said someone was put in place immediately afterward.
“This independent extra-provincial prosecutor will be responsible for providing advice to the police at their request. Prosecutors do not oversee investigations,” he said.
The Opposition NDP had in recent days been demanding that Kenney’s government confirm whether someone had been hired.
Tolppanen stressed that the decision was made independent of elected officials.
“For the sake of clarity, this was an independent decision of the (Crown Prosecution Service),” said Tolppanen.
“As with other prosecutorial decisions in general, the decision was made independently and without the direction, nor seeking of direction, from elected officials.”
Watch: UCP Leader Jason Kenney speaks at launch of Alberta election. Story continues below.
The RCMP has been investigating whether voter identity fraud was committed in the 2017 United Conservative leadership race, which Kenny won handily over fellow candidates Doug Schweitzer and main rival Brian Jean, who had been leader of the Wildrose party.
The Wildrose and the Progressive Conservative party had by that time merged to form the UCP.
The NDP began calling for a special prosecutor soon after Kenney took over as premier on April 30 and named Schweitzer as justice minister.
NDP Leader Rachel Notley said a clear line was needed to avoid a conflict of interest — and the perception of a conflict — given that Kenney and Schweitzer had both been candidates in the leadership race and that Alberta’s prosecutors now work for them.
Schweitzer and Infrastructure Minister Prasad Panda were questioned by police, but neither would disclosed what was discussed except to say they are not considered suspects.
Also involved is UCP backbencher Peter Singh. He won the Calgary East seat in the election, just days after police raided his auto-repair shop and confiscated a computer hard drive in what Singh’s lawyer has said was part of the leadership fraud investigation.
Singh, who has said he is innocent, has never been charged. Kenney has resisted Opposition calls to move Singh out of caucus until the matter is resolved.
In the 2017 contest, both Jean and Schweitzer expressed concerns that voter fraud had occurred, but a committee overseeing the vote said it found no such evidence.